Colorado Rapids

Keys against D.C. United: Rapids need "ruthless" mentality on Sunday

When the Colorado Rapids take the pitch Sunday evening in Washington D.C., they’ll be taking on a United team that hasn’t yet been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention but is nearing the necessary arithmetic.

Sitting on 25 points in 2022, it has been a disappointing season for the black and red. In total, they’ve had three different managers this year. They began the season with Argentinian coach Hernan Losada as the full-time gaffer. He was let go in the spring and replaced by interim manager Chad Ashton. On July, 12th, Wayne Rooney returned to DCU to take on the full-time role. After a month on the job, the Englishman has guided DC to a 2-5-1 record.

But Wayne Rooney didn’t take over in late July to make the playoffs in 2022. It would have been a nice bonus to be sure, but he’s here to institute a culture overhaul, navigate multiple transfer windows and return D.C. United to MLS prominence. In a lot of ways, the end of 2022 mirrors the end of Colorado’s 2019 season. Robin Fraser’s first match in charge was in August, and the Rapids narrowly missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. But they entered the off-season knowing they had the answer at the helm, the talent on the roster, and knew what they needed to do to make the playoffs in 2020 (which they did).

Along with Wayne Rooney, D.C. added Premier League striker Christian Benteke. The 31-year-old Belgian played 162 matches at Crystal Palace in London, and played for Liverpool and Aston Villa before that. He’s scored at the World Cup, so he’ll likely have little issue scoring in MLS when he adjusts to the league. He made his first appearance as a second-half sub in D.C.’s last match, a road victory over New York City FC. He may make his first start Sunday evening.

While D.C. have had a lackluster 2022 and are looking longterm towards a brighter 2023, they have games left to play, and as NYC learned midweek, this D.C. team can still pack a punch. So here’s how the Rapids can get three points and push for the postseason.

1) Bottle Benteke

He didn’t start Wednesday night against NYC, but he’d just joined United days before. With playoffs a long way off, I am assuming manager Wayne Rooney will be looking to get Benteke minutes right away. He’ll want to build for 2023, getting Benteke acclimated to his new teammates and life in MLS. And with Benteke in the lineup, DCU becomes a different team than who they were before Benteke. This isn’t somebody heading to MLS to retire, this is somebody coming in with Premier League credentials and plenty of gas in the tank. He could very easily upend the game by himself if Colorado aren’t careful.

2) Be Ruthless

D.C. United have played 28 games in 2022. They’ve conceded multiple goals in 18 of those matches. They’ve conceded 59 goals which is 2.1 goals per game. The Rapids attack has come and gone in waves in 2022. This match is an opportunity to jump start a wave going down the home stretch of the regular season. It’s a porous-at-best D.C. defense that can be exploited and broken down. In goal, they recently added David Ochoa thanks to a midseason move with Real Salt Lake. He’s hoping to find his m 2021 form, before he went down with an injury to begin 2022. At his best, he’s one of the better goalkeepers in the league. But even the best goalkeepers need good defending in front of them. This can be a game where Gyasi Zardes and Diego Rubio feed.

3) Mitigate Mistakes

It’s been the story of the season for the Rapids. When they’re playing well, it’s because they’re playing as a unit and everybody is focused for 90 minutes. When things go wrong, it’s usually one minor error that is exacerbated and punished by the opposition. The strategy, talent, tactics, and effort are all there. The ingredients are there to make something special. Everybody in burgundy needs to be dialed in and ready to go from the opening whistle. Given the sense of urgency that begins to percolate for every team around this time of year, I have no doubt everybody in the locker room knows this and is ready for the task at hand. There are still 18 points left in the season. There’s enough time left to jump in the standings, but it will require the Rapids to be at their best the rest of the way.